Taking requests: Packing for safari

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“In October, I’m going to Kenya on safari, staying for ten days in luxe tent camps,” writes a reader named Anna. “All good (excellent, actually). However I’m utterly confused about what to wear. One is discouraged from wearing blue or black by day (the colors attract nasty flies) and from wearing camo anything. So, by day, literally safari-colored clothing (khaki, stone, white, army green) and by night, dressy-but-not-too-dressy for safari tent drinks and dinners (black and blue allowed). I’m thinking feminine and safari sexy (just a little bit).” Glad to take up the challenge, Anna, and can I say that I am intensely jealous? Also, because my main packing rule is to choose a limited color palette, this request is right up my alley. I love the idea of being limited to this particular set of hues, and would go heavy on the khaki, starting with this excellent utility shirt from J. Crew.


These Vince shorts come in khaki too, but are so damn crisp in the white.

I’d bring a few white T-shirts, one of which might be James Perse’s Casual Tee, because it’s got such a good, deep scoopneck. But I like this V-neck from Everlane too, if you’re interested in a cheaper (as in $15 a pop) option.

These espadrilles would be nice for lounging about Base Camp.

This sneaker is not on the list of recommended colors (or maybe it qualifies as stone?), but I feel like it would work, and also go with everything.

A pair of khaki chinos with a nice, relaxed cut seem essential for a trip like this.

Temperatures in Kenya in October are generally hot, but it can cool off in the mornings and evenings, so a nice Chan Luu scarf in army green makes sense.

For evening, I’d pack a light dress in a T-shirt material. If I was feeling splurgy, though, I’d go for one of Maria Cornejo’s silk jersey dresses because they are so pretty, and eminently packable.

This dress feels slightly Out of Africa in a slouchy, updated way, which I dig.

And finally: a hat is essential, and this one is packable. And here is one with a wider brim, if that’s what you’re after.

 

 

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23 Thoughts on Taking requests: Packing for safari
    Christina
    8 Aug 2018
    11:59am

    This story made me laugh! I’ve been on safari in Africa and I would highly recommend staying away from natural fibers. My adventure was hot, dusty and active so required more serious clothing. Instead, I’d head over to Lululemon and pick up several pairs of the On the Fly pants (they come in full length, cropped and wide) and the Dance Studio Crop II. These pants are amazing for travel because they are breathable, stay clean are easily washed and dried and pack up tiny. They are available in safari friendly colors this year. I prefer Lulu over the brands at REI for fit and the flexibility to be used beyond the active travel.
    But, I’m dying for one of Maria Cornejo’s silk jersey dresses! I’m going to add that to my “must have” list!

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      jenny
      10 Aug 2018
      10:05pm

      Hey, Christina, is there a reason why cropped pants are better on safari?

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    Lara
    8 Aug 2018
    1:09pm

    Also, I would suggest bringing a number of skirts – they’re much easier to navigate around when there’s not traditional western-style toilets.

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    Claudia
    8 Aug 2018
    1:12pm

    Friend of mine went on safari last October and she was warned–no black! It attracts biting insects.

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    katie
    8 Aug 2018
    1:43pm

    The husband is taking me on African Sarfari for my 40th.. I’ve been researching what to pack. From everything I read, you want to steer clear of white during the day because of all the dust. I’m planning on packing greens and greys for the day adventures.

    I love this post thought and am 100% going to check out those pants from Lululemon. And those dresses for the evening. I was thinking about buying the hat I want from Cuyana, but I think something with strings would be better for the day… don’t want it to fly off.

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    Phyllis Kosminsky
    8 Aug 2018
    2:13pm

    Travelfashiongirl.com is a great resource for every kind of packing question. Also great specific product recommendations (Anatomie pants: a revelation). Huge help last year when I was preparing for an extended trip to multiple climes. A surprise, but a lifesaver: washable merino wool t shirts. I know, wool: but they are as light as air, do not absorb order, and can be washed and dried overnight.

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    Robin
    8 Aug 2018
    2:14pm

    This is the time to investigate outdoor brands that use synthetic materials that are light, easy to layer, and easy to wash and dry. They also typically come in appropriate colors and have SPF built into the fabric. Take a look at Patagonia.

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    Anne Calhoun
    8 Aug 2018
    4:16pm

    I went on safari in Kenya, staying at safari-chic boutique camps, 4 years ago. From my experience, no one dressed up for dinner. There isn’t a need to have a set of dresses on hand. Here are a few other packing tips, I would recommend though:
    – Avoid white, like Katie stated. It’s dusty and the area where I visited had red dirt. It was impossible to keep any light-colored clothing look clean. I even had my whites and grey Converse shoes laundered at the camps, but the clothes still had an orange cast to them. Green, gray and brown are your best friends on safari.
    – Pack long pants, to keep the bugs and brush at bay. Some camps allow you to walk in the parks/conservancies with a guide, and having scratched legs from bugs and the bush is no fun. Shorts or skirts would be fine for the camp/tent area.
    – Tops for layering. In Kenya, I packed a tank top, short sleeved T-shirts, a long sleeved shirt and a fleece. It gets cool there in the evenings. The recommendation of merino wool T-shirts is a good one.
    -Make sure to have closed toe shoes (again dirt- tennis shoes/hiking boots), and perhaps sandals for walking around your tent/camp area.
    – A hat, sunglasses, sunscreen.
    – Bug spray, anti-malarial drugs.
    – Review your vaccinations to see if they’re up to date and include the vaccines required for the country you’re visiting.

    I hope you have an amazing trip in Kenya. You will love it!

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      c.w.
      8 Aug 2018
      8:08pm

      A friend of mine just returned from a photo safari and I can ditto all the above that Anne recommends––particularly the fleecebecause of the cool mornings and evenings and would add a neck bandana to the list.

      Have a great trip! Sounds life-changing!!

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    Carin DeGroff
    8 Aug 2018
    6:06pm

    Also having been on a safari in Kenya – no need to dress up, even for dinner. Think more of what you’d wear hiking – buy some hiking shorts and pants from REI, Eddie Bauer, Athleta. Jeans are too heavy and sweaty. A few long sleeve button down hiking shirts, and a bunch of performance tee shirts. All of these should be things you could wash in a sink if you had to (they will dry quickly). Wear tennis shoes and hiking boots (many areas have this orange-y dirt/mud, so wear your grungy-er shoes). Definitely a wide brimmed hat, not only for the sun but to protect your hair from the flying dust. A warm hoodie or two – can get chilly at night. A packable rain jacket with a hood.

    OK, maybe pack a cute packable dress or two with sandals or flipflops for night (usually you get back from safari late afternoon and take a shower before dinner).

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    Danielle
    8 Aug 2018
    6:15pm

    I lived in West Africa for a few years, although in admittedly less luxe environs than posh safari camps but have to echo other comments that white is so impractical. Dirt and dust is everywhere and absolutely unavoidable. Culturally speaking, I’d avoid tank tops and things cuts above the knee to be respectful to local communities outside Nairobi and the suburbs.

    Look for sweat-wicking materials and if you’re really adverse to mosquito, tsetse, and other bugs a lot of outdoor outfitters have insect-repellent clothing. Not exactly Out of Africa-chic but if you’re out on safari all day, I’d save fashion moments for evening dinners. African fabrics are so vibrantly colorful and African women are so good at pairing colors and patterns – leave the neutrals at home!

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      DANA D
      8 Aug 2018
      8:23pm

      I agree with Danielle regarding the cultural respect and awareness part of this equation. No short shorts, skirts or bare shoulders. If its really hot, I’ll wear a tank with a light scarf wrapped around to cover my shoulders.

      I’ve been on safari in Tanzania and South Africa and agree with most of what has been stated here. No white, light layers and long sleeves and pants in neutral colors for jeep and walking expeditions. You do want to blend in-you want to see wildlife! I wore my Clarks tan suede chukka boots in Africa last year and they were perfect–brushed the dust right off. I would not pack tennis shoes or sneakers for safari. Canvas hat and good sunnies for sure.

      Also, leave the bling at home. You’ll be waited on mostly by people from very modest means. I always leave my precious gems behind when traveling in developing countries.

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    MB
    8 Aug 2018
    7:44pm

    Hi – I worked for a safari company in Kenya so agree with the comments above regarding light colored “bottoms” (i.e. shorts and shoes), the dust is red and it is very dusty. Your shoes will always be dusty, even in Nairobi. When I would go to the bush, I wore long pants, tank top under a long sleeve button down and closed toed shoes. A nice white button down (long sleeved!) would be OK for dinner but yes, no need to dress up. Please keep in mind the mosquitos – they come out at dusk so always cover your arms and legs, with plenty of repellent elsewhere. The main thing we told travelers is to not underestimate the sun – don’t wear just tank tops or shorts to walk around in the sun, don’t lay on top of the vehicle in the sun. Sun poisoning is real – so yes, always pack a hat.

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    Dana D
    8 Aug 2018
    8:06pm

    I’ve been on safari in Tanzania and South Africa and can echo much of what’s been written here. No white, neutrals for jeep expeditions and walking in the bush/brush, and long sleeves and pants for said expeditions. I like loose fitting garments in neutral fabrics because they are cooler, also, you want to blend in if you want to see wildlife. Colors are appropriate at night and I’d also add that skirts are a good idea. I wore my sand-colored suede clark boots for safari in South Africa last year and they were perfect. Tennis shoes or fancy sneakers-not so much.

    Also from the cultural respect and awareness points of view, modest clothing is a must. No short shorts or bare shoulders, like Danielle suggested. I will wear a tank top it its very hot and wrap a light scarf around and over my shoulders. And leave the bling at home because many of the people who will be waiting on you come from very modest means–I always leave my fine gems behind when traveling in developing countries.

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    Anna
    8 Aug 2018
    8:26pm

    I love all these comments. Thank you! And I am SO glad I asked, because my search for “what to pack” is now moving in a completely different (and dare I say, much more practical) direction. I have to smile at my own vision of myself in my white (!) shorts and my fancy evening dress – covered in red dust and mosquito bites. Okay, I am ON it. No more Out of Africa fantasies.

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    Tara
    8 Aug 2018
    9:27pm

    We have a great pharmacy nearby that has a fantastic travel goods section as well. While there to make sure my typhoid vaccine was up to date prior to a Costa Rica trip, the pharmacist recommended a Seattle-based scarf company (Tickled Pink) that makes very sheer, lightweight large scarves that are treated to repel insects. I was worried about it smelling or having DEET but it was so great that my girlfriends kept borrowing it and I ended up sending them their own versions after the trip. The pharmacist said she recommends it to lots of customers as it’s very light but helps cover up in locales where bare shoulders are culturally insensitive–and the bug repellent really worked! Their website is https://tickledpinkgift.com/collections/insect-shield-1 but they are also on Amazon. Have a wonderful time!

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    Darcy
    8 Aug 2018
    10:12pm

    Instead of the espadrilles, you want EVA Birkenstocks. They weigh almost nothing (srsly!!), are super comfortable, and can be washed with a rinse of water. Slip on, slip off. Lots of cute colors and a styles to choose from. I own Arizona. They are chunky and adorable. Again, they are so incredibly ultra lightweight. Other styles available, including at Birkenstock’s own website. https://www.amazon.com/Birkenstock-Unisex-Arizona-EVA-Sandals/dp/B00LFCGMR2?th=1

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    Snowcapsnow
    9 Aug 2018
    3:23am

    You may be tempted to have the camp do your laundry while you are on Safari, but know that laundry is literally beaten to death in Africa! Unless it is woven and can be ironed, rinse it yourself. T-shirts will never look or fit the same again. Definitely take something warm and wind proof for late evening and dawn game drives. My best tip is to pack some sports bras. Who ever knew that dirt tracks could be so bumpy!

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    Nancy
    9 Aug 2018
    6:08am

    When I travel I take merino wool underwear (and I wear it when I’m not traveling). It’s not hot! It absorbs sweat and odor, is kind to your nether regions, and in a pinch, you can wear it more than one day. Washes easily and dries faster than you would think. I prefer IceBreaker brand. Also great for long haul flights.

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    Laura P
    9 Aug 2018
    7:35pm

    Also, consider that it still might rain a little. The above comments, esp. from Anne Calhoun, are real-world right! Loose, quick-dry, muted, modest. Keep your chest protected from sun – no low-cut t-shirts during the day. Wear clothes comfy for long dusty drives over bone-jarring roads – I mixed active-wear crops and skirts (think Athleta and Title 9). Keep your feet covered – I wore my Allbirds all day and they were perfect. A long t-shirt or tank dress for camp evenings would be perfect. Take cheap fun jewelry or buy some there! Prepare for bruises, bug bites and dust inhalation. Prepare for an awe-inspiring experience.

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    Abby
    10 Aug 2018
    2:10am

    So much great advice here. To add to it: get to a travel clinic and start the vaccination process. Some vaccines can run in short supply and take time (weeks) to take effect, so don’t leave this for the last minute. Also, the vaccination process can be extremely expensive, depending on where you’re going. Other tidibits: check for elections, which in Africa can have a huge impact on local conditions when you’re traveling, be good to your guides as they make all the difference in your experience and bring small usable gifts to share with locals (even a pencil or an eraser is truly appreciated by people who have very little).

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    Ita Darling
    10 Aug 2018
    2:02pm

    I live in a South Africa and have been on many Safaris-

    Really you don’t have to spend a lot of money outfitting yourself. I would shop your own closet for grey and olive colors and make do or buy second hand kit on eBay. Then- Consider leaving behind as much as you can after your journey- locals really appreciate it as these rural communities where the staff live don’t usually have a lot.
    It’s a great form of touristic charity.

    Safaris are mostly sitting in Jeeps/Landies- and game drives start early in the morning – so bring some yoga pants and a fleece to throw on when you wake up and light layers to adjust to temperature changes as the sun rises.

    There normally there isn’t much game activity during mid day at the height of heat- so i never give much thought to the colors thing but ymmv if you are doing mid day hikes or other activities.

    I also second the sports bra for bumpy rides and hand washing most of your gear.

    Bring a pair of your own binoculars and get a local bird guide book. Most outfitters only stock a vehicle with 1-2 pairs of binoculars for the entire group to use. It’s annoying.Big game is amazing of course but you will find a lot of satisfaction comes from seeing birds, small mammals, and insects that are all mysterious and amazing.

    I would really avoid the (what I call) “urban explorer” kitted out REI tourist look. It will make you a target in cities and you just want to look normal. I would save your money buying new stuff for traveling – and the extra suitcase room will come from leaving stuff behind!

    Have a great time!

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    Mamavalveeta03
    14 Aug 2018
    12:32am

    Major “Out of Africa 2018” vibes! Simple and chic choices – and wearable again – the best part!

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Kim France

I was born in Houston, Texas in 1964 and have lived in New York City since 1988. I had a long career in magazines, working at Sassy, Elle, New York, and Spin, and in 2000, I founded Lucky magazine, which I edited for ten years.

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